Is it the most significant policing technology since DNA testing or the next privacy disaster waiting to happen, setting us on the path towards, as The Guardian's editor puts it, "total surveillance"?
The battle lines have been drawn over face recognition technology, development of which Australia is at the forefront.
While NSW Police is keeping mum, the Australian Federal Police called face recognition a "potent tool" for linking criminals to crime while Customs said it could allow airport security clearances to be carried out in a more seamless fashion.
Private companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple are also investing heavily in face recognition.
University of Queensland professor Brian Lovell, project leader at federal government body NICTA's advanced surveillance project, earlier this month won a global Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance award for his team's five-year project, which he says solved the "holy grail" problem of face recognition.
For the first time, Lovell says he and his team have been able to use grainy, low quality CCTV video footage to identify individuals from databases and even find and track people as they move around an area.
"Our 'face search' is like a Google search in that we can search through very large databases very fast," said Lovell.
"We do recognition in real-time so you walk up to a system and you're recognised; it can search a database of 10,000 or 50,000 instantaneously and do the matching."
You won't know you're being watched
But further to that, the technology doesn't even need to have people looking into the camera for it to work, which is a current limitation of the SmartGate technology at airports.
"What we specialise in is non-cooperative surveillance, that means the person doesn't have to be aware that they are being photographed to be recognised," said Lovell.
Lovell said movies had given the false impression that police have long been able to do face recognition but in reality they can only do it when the image quality is extremely high and on a very limited basis.
"We're working with police ... we're in Canberra at the moment -- virtually all the local agencies that you'd be thinking of we're probably talking to them," he said.
Lovell, who wouldn't give specifics about formal trials in Australia, said that for example if there was an assault on a taxi driver the police could use low quality footage from the surveillance camera inside the cab to match against its photo database and identify the assailant.
It could also be used by police for automated pro-active policing rather than checking CCTV footage after a crime has been committed or getting humans to monitor footage in real time.
FOR identify criminals using grainy CCTV or mobile footage automatically pick people on terror watchlist proactive crime fighting and monitoring quicker and better Customs checks at airports check multiple identities simultaneously richer online services (Facebook, Google)
AGAINST false positives risk for total surveillance potential for abuse people don't necessarily know they're being watched the evidence on its own won't hold up in court can't change face if "hacked"
22 November 2011.